This study examines middle-class consumption and lifestyle during the transition to adulthood in the United States. Based on analysis of qualitative data from interviews with emerging adults between adolescence and settled adulthood, we argue that middle-class emerging adulthood is marked by a focus on exploratory experience consumption: the consumption of novel experiences with cultural capital potential. This tacit, embodied orientation is rooted in a habitus developed during entitled childhoods but is also shaped by an anticipated shortage of opportunities for exploration after they marry and have children. Accordingly, middle-class emerging adults voraciously consume exploratory experiences in the present with their imagined future selves in mind. The class basis for this orientation is examined through our analysis of interviews with working-class emerging adults whose lifestyles are characterized not by exploratory experience consumption but by a desire for the familiar, a fear of the unknown, and a longing for stability. The discussion focuses on how the middle-class consumer orientation toward exploratory experiences reinforces class (dis)advantage, life trajectories, and inequality.
- Emerging adulthood
- Experiential consumption
- Social class
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Business and International Management
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
- Economics and Econometrics